Which Long Course Super-Suit Era World Record Will Last the Longest?

Jul 29, 2012; London, United Kingdom; Paul Biedermann (GER) reacts after winning his heat in the men's 200m freestyle semifinal during the London 2012 Olympic Games at Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Which Long Course Super-Suit Era World Record Will Last the Longest?

The 2009 World Championships in Rome was one to remember. The swimming world witnessed a whopping 43 world records set at the Foro Italico. Only two events (men’s 400 freestyle relay; men’s 400 IM) survived the record onslaught in Rome. 

The championships also marked the beginning of the end of the “super-suit” era. The polyurethane, full-body suits caused major controversy, as they added buoyancy, stability, speed, and endurance. The term technological doping surfaced.

The Arena X-Glide and Jaked, in particular, came under heavy scrutiny, as it consisted of pure polyurethane. Meanwhile, Speedo’s LZR only featured poly material on the parts of the body that produced the most drag, which meant the other suits provided a significant advantage. 

Coach Bob Bowman made headlines when he called out the suit situation after German Paul Biedermann beat Michael Phelps in the 200 freestyle while wearing the Arena suit. In the process, Biedermann obliterated Phelps’ world record. After Biedermann finished sixth (1:46.00) at the Beijing Olympics a year prior, Bowman questioned the insane time drops. 

“It took me five years to get Michael from 1:46 to 1:42, and this guy has done it in 11 months,” he said. “That’s an amazing training performance. I’d like to know how to do that.”

FINA banned the suits after the meet, with the ruling going into effect on January 1, 2010. While the suits were banned, the world records remained. People wondered if swimmers would ever get close to the super-suited records. Eleven years on, swimmers have exceeded expectations. 

The men have surpassed half of the records, and only two remain on the women’s side. Of the ones that remain, swimmers have threatened most of them, but there are a few that seem untouchable. 

That poses the question: Which long course, super-suit era world records will remain the longest?

Men’s Events 

200 Freestyle – 1:42.00: Paul Biedermann, Germany, 2009 World Championships

Before the 2008 Olympic Games, Phelps (1:43.86) and 2004 Olympic Champion Ian Thorpe (1:44.06) were the only men to break 1:45 in the 200 freestyle. Phelps, already in a league of his own, took the event to new heights in Beijing. He dismantled the world record he set a year prior, becoming the first man under 1:43 in the process.

Given that he was almost two seconds ahead of his closest competitor, his 1:42.96 seemed untouchable. Then came the 2009 World Record frenzy. Even as record after record tumbled at the championships, many expected the 200 free to be safe. However, we witnessed the 200 free taken to an even higher standard than the year before. 

After finishing over three seconds behind Phelps in Beijing, Biedermann shocked the swimming world, handily beating Phelps, and chopping almost a second off the previous world record in the process. 

Although people questioned its legitimacy due to Biedermann wearing the Arena X-Glide, the record is still on the books, and it does not look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon. Since the “super-suit” era, only 2012 Olympic Champion Yannick Angel (1:43.14) has been within two seconds of the record. 

With no one under 1:44 since 2012, the record looks safe for the near future. 


800 Freestyle – 7:32.12: Zhang Lin, China, 2009 World Championships 

It is not entirely surprising that no one has been close to this record, as it has never been an Olympic event. Now part of the Olympic lineup, swimmers may opt to put more focus into the event. With that in mind, we could see significant time drops from top distance swimmers, putting Zhang’s record under threat in the near future, although it will take the equivalent of back-to-back 3:46 performances.

Women’s Events

200 Butterfly – 2:01.81: Liu Zige, China, 2009, Chinese Nationals

Fun Fact: For 25 days in 2009, the women’s 200 butterfly long course world record was faster than the short-course meters version, only the third individual event in swimming history to ever have this happen (women’s 100 butterfly, February 1995-April 1997, women’s 200 backstroke, August 1991-December 1993). 

Liu Zige

Photo Courtesy: Joao Marc Bosch

At the 2008 Olympics, Liu Zige (2:04.18) knocked over a second off Australian Jessicah Schipper’s world record to win the 200 butterfly in front of her home crowd. After it took someone two years to break Schippers’ record, three swimmers broke the world record in the space of 16 months. 

American-record holder Mary DeScenza (2:04.14) broke Liu’s year-old record in prelims at the 2009 World Championships. The record lasted for just over 24 hours before Schipper reclaimed it. She stopped the clock at 2:03.41, winning the gold in Rome and knocking over seven-tenths off DeScenza’s prelims time. 

Liu emphasized that no record was safe in the “super-suit” era, as she obliterated the record two months later at Chinese Nationals. She skipped over 2:02 and reclaimed her record from Beijing with an emphatic 2:01.81. 

Since the ban on super-suits, no woman has broken 2:04. For perspective, short-course world record holder Mireia Belmonte won gold in Rio with a 2:04.83, a whopping three seconds slower than Liu’s record. 


200 Freestyle – 1:52.98: Federica Pellegrini, Italy, 2009 World Championships

As mentioned before, the women have done an exceptional job re-writing the record board post “super-suit” era. Aside from the 200 fly, the only long-course world record remaining from 2009 is the 200 freestyle. With freestyle talents like Sarah Sjostrom, Katie Ledecky, and others, it’s kind of surprising to see this record still standing. Ledecky was within a second of the record in Rio and could challenge it in Tokyo. 

While Pellegrini brought the 200 free to new heights with her performances in 2008 and 2009, it feels like this record’s days could be numbered.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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Super-extra-mega suited Cielo
1 year ago

Yannick Agnel has been within 1 second of the record, not 2 seconds ( It‘s wrong in the article)

1 year ago

1.14 seconds is not within 1 second

1 year ago

What abt the men’s 400 free

David Abineri
1 year ago

Perhaps the most powerful argument for the fact that FINA does NOT have the best interests of the sport or the athletes in mind when first allowing these suits. Where were the tests and the data to show that this would be a good move?

Jaime León
1 year ago

What about Aaron Peirsol’s 200 back?